from protectors cant be tolerated
the upsurge in criminal violence, there has been a vigorous
response by the police and other arms of the national security
services. Sometimes, the force of the official response
has saved lives, as it did when a Digicel outlet was terrorised
by young robbers this week.
But sometimes, things simply go wrong.
The shooting of forklift driver Shazad Mohammed on a fishing
lime, allegedly by members of the Coast Guard, and the beating
and torture of Hindu nawh Rabindranath Choon on Friday share
one chilling element.
Both witnesses to the incident involving Mohammed and the
victim Choon claim they were attacked by people out of uniform
who acted, according to their accusers, without provocation
or apparent reason.
Choons family hasnt even been able to make a
report on the incident, with officers from the Oropouche
Station, in which the pundits assistant claims he
was held for three hours and tortured, refusing to take
a statement and officers in San Fernando sending the family
back to the Oropouche police.
In Charlieville, Mohammeds hometown, the witnesses
to the killing are living in terrified silence, even as
their community rises in anger against the incident.
In March, the Ramsumairs, of Poona Village, Williamsville,
claimed officers out of uniform jumped their gate, smashed
glass louvres and kicked in the front door as part of their
arrest procedures. The family, mostly children and elderly
citizens, called on Commissioner of Police Trevor Paul to
investigate the way the suspect, Valentino, was taken from
In recent months, the United States has also wrestled with
the knock and announce procedure for gaining
access to a suspects home, balancing respect for civilian
privacy against the need for officers, who always face the
unknown in situations like this, to move quickly and effectively.
But at least, there is a procedure.
In Trinidad and Tobago, there is no common consensus understanding
of how a police officer or any other official of the protective
services, particularly one working out of uniform, should
approach a suspect. This gives officers of the law an advantage,
but its one that puts the ordinary citizen at a thorough
disadvantage and leaves open to question how one should
respond to someone in plainclothes, armed with a gun.
This kind of uncertainty ensures that the Police Complaints
Authority, already overburdened to the point of ineffectuality,
will continue to field a flood of concerns from the very
people the police have pledged to protect and serve.
The passing in April 2006 of a revised Police Complaints
Authority Bill, is supposed to create a revamped Police
Complaints Authority, one led with at least the appearance
The act specifically disallows the appointment of either
a director or deputy director who has either been in politics
or in the police service and requires a consensus decision
of the President, Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.
The bill, passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives
and the Senate, must now evolve quickly from words on paper
into a more potent ombudsman for the people.
But theres nothing stopping either the Minister of
National Security or the Commissioner of Police from responding
to the outrage that these and other incidents have provoked.
An immediate review of the way officers are executing their
duties and the institution of common sense standards to
govern the way challenges and searches are managed in the
field would go some distance in creating common ground between
our protectors that those they have undertaken a duty to
For some, such a code of conduct will mean the difference
between fear and confidence in the stewards of the law.
For others, its a matter of life and death.